Disengaging from being paid to work…

I’m retired…meaning not working for pay. But there’s no way I can give up doing what I love most, which is shooting and producing videos. I’ve had to come up with a plan…a philosophy…so I can continue my love without compromising my ethics…and here it is, subject to revision.

1. If you have a budget or can get a budget I can’t work for you. Sorry…there are folks out there who make their living doing video production and you should be paying them, not looking for a freebie.

2. If I am interested we’ll talk. If I say no, I mean it. This is my life and my retirement and I get to decide how to spend it.

3. I’m pretty independent…so not a fan of committees or micromanagement. We can work together if you are willing to discuss your goals and ideas and then trust me to come up with a concept and final project. Yes, you’ll get to see it and have approval rights at certain stages. But refer back to #2 if you have questions.

4. I steer clear of personal videos such as weddings and birthdays and the kind of videos you should either do yourself or pay a pro for. Again, my life, my choice of how to spend it.

5. There are a couple of non-profits and other organizations I love working with and they take priority over everything else.

Life is meant to be lived as we choose when we retire. So my retirement is a combination of personal preferences (gardening, travel with the husband), volunteering, and continuing to work on videos.

And that said, here’s the latest done for the San Joaquin County OES. Yep – they had no budget but a great need to get the word out about the flood threat continuing through July and possibly into August this year. And I had a great need to find a truly challenging project and had the good fortune to work with a department of friendly professionals who are as passionate about their work as I am mine.

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Do Not Go Gentle…

…into that good night.  A poem read in high school that stayed with me…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas (1914~1953)

The thought of growing old when in my teens seemed a remote possibility.  Almost as much as the thought of once again being young seeming even more unbelievable.  But in age I ponder how to use the time left…to do it wisely, wildly?  To strike out on new adventures or continue in a comfortable rut or find a middle ground.

Thomas’s poem seems to want the aging to rage and fight against the final night.  But the passion should be more about pushing one’s creative limits with a blinding passion that re-ignites love of life and all that make it worthwhile.  Yes, anger is an emotion – strong one.  But it is also a destroyer, not a creator.  And I choose the passion of creating.  In my case creating stories visually.

While I doubt that I can ever truly lay down my camera, I seem to use it less and less on on a day to day basis.  But I still love the art and craft of storytelling and seem to be seguing more and more into discussion and demonstration – not so much in the learn/teach mode as share and explore.  My visualization is moving from the nuts and bolts of wide, medium, close-up to a sense of light…dark…motion…feeling.  A sequence of emotions that join together in an attempt to communicate.

I have something new to play with at a pace more suited to my age and abilities that will still allow exploration of the world and its inhabitants and my first loves.  Seeing and communicating what I see so that others may share the vision.

Invisible work…

Videojournalism or reporting visually can make you highly visible.  There ya are:  camera in hand, mike out.  You’re gathering news to put up…somewhere.  On the web, on TV, whatever.

So folks see you with that gear and think, “Hey, I can do THAT!”  Piece of cake.

That’s the visible part of your job.

The invisible part, kind of like an iceberg, is 80 or 90 percent submerged where no one can see it.

Like:  how do you choose a story, an angle, which questions to ask/which to keep and consider asking.  Which shots to get.  What you DON’T shoot.

And…editing.

The invisible part of the job.

From what I’ve experienced, shooting can be the flashy easy part.  And for every hour put in shooting, you may have another hour (or more) piecing together those random clips into something cohesive.

And (to the uninitiated) there are more layers.

Typical assignment.

  1. Get assignment and figure out your angle
  2. Make calls/email and set up interviews/b-roll
  3. Shoot
  4. Log – transcribe NATs and interviews
  5. Write script
  6. Edit

1-2-3 might take three or four or more hours.  Four and five maybe another hour.  And poor old editing gets whatever is left.  If you’re working with a reporter, pray that they remember to toss you enough time to edit the story together properly.  If you’re a one man band, don’t box yourself in.  Allow time to edit.

And for those who think it all comes together miraculously…think again.  An iceberg is a pretty thing, but can be deadly.  Especially come deadline time.

Crushing dreams for being realistic?

We all have dreams. A better life. Being thinner, richer. Sometimes material things. Sometimes something else. Hopefully though we all have a way to balance our dreams with the real world and not spend life wallowing in regrets.

When I look back at my life I see that many of my dreams never materialized through either my own poor judgement or circumstances, but I don’t let it bother me. Much more than a twinge…and then I move on. I’ve been lucky enough to have two careers that totally absorbed me. Three girls who have grown into women I could never have imagined…like me they forged their own paths. And a husband who is so much a part of me that I can’t imagine life without him.

Enough about me though…here’s the rub. How do you explain to the upcoming generation how to balance reality with dreams?

I’m a cheerleader for our young people. Volunteer with high school and college age students, nudging them to excel. Mentoring more young people via the Internet, again nudging them to think about their choices. And I like to think I’ve never told a young person that they can’t do something. All things are possible. If they prepare themselves.

Now in the case of the high school students my advice is primarily take the right courses and focus on passing with a good enough grade they can move on to college and a career. In some cases I’ve actually told students they can flunk. Harsh? If you take a student who has flunked English or math or science from middle school forward pep talks don’t work. Tutoring can help but not with every student, especially if their life and home situations place barriers to becoming better. So I give them permission to flunk with the following advice.

Sure – flunk English. But you want to be an auto mechanic (or warehouseman…or beautician)? Then learn how to write a solid resume, learn how to write a business letter. Pick up a good solid workplace vocabulary…know the language of the career path you have chosen.

Sure – flunk math. But learn how to add up services and products to write a receipt. Don’t forget to include tax (a percentage of the total). Know how to write an estimate for repairs. Understand how to read your paycheck…not just the total or amount after taxes. Have a handle on all those niggling little details like FICA and state and Medicare (how big a bite those deductions take out of your hard earned money).

And now. On to college.

There are students who you know just naturally are gonna make it. They may struggle with this course or that course but they are willing to give it their best shot. Take the core hard classes and go into class with the intent not just of passing but learning. I am very proud to be acquainted with a number of these golden youth.

And then there are … the others. Those with a dream, but unwilling to be realistic. Those who just know they are going to be great but are unwilling to put in the time and effort to pay their dues at the bottom in order to earn their way slowly up the ladder to success. (Success by the way, as defined by me, is not money…but happiness in both your career and life paths.)

I run into them both on campus and the Internet. Had a discussion with a young man from India (much) earlier this morning. He tried to join a professional site I moderate which doesn’t allow students…after explaining that to him, he told me he really wanted to learn how to be a travel journalist…and after more probing, a travel cameraman. One – he is studying to be an engineer. He has no background of any kind in any phase of journalism. Not insurmountable, but his dreams are not going to happen soon.

And then more…he desperately wants to get away from home (and possibly his down-to-earth parents), travel to a foreign county (Europe or the US) and go to journalism school. And become a glamorous travel journalist/cameraman.

The implication that all a cameraman does is point and shoot. Anyone can do it. I heard that so many times over the years from folks with a home handycam…”Hey, I’ve got a Sony too. Bet I can do your job. How to I apply?”

Not. Gonna. Happen.

So more guiding…and explaining the complexity of the job. Shooting, research, scheduling, logging, transcribing, writing, logging, editing…all with the intent to pop out a concise visual story. He is much subdued but listening to the advice to consider going into engineering and working on his passion weekends. A paying job and a dream to work towards.

Meanwhile the on-campus students. The students who don’t “do” tripods. Or want to know manual controls. Just pick up a camera and wave it. Or sit in front of said camera (maybe with a shaky friend holding it) and pretend to be a celebrity interviewer. Forget about light, audio, exposure, sequencing, framing, writing, editing. It’s all in the moment.

Unfortunately that moment isn’t even their fifteen minutes of stardom. It is a momentary flash seen only by themselves and a few friends.

Yeah…the terminal termagant is crabbing today. Again…I never tell students they can’t. But also never lie to them and say they can…

Dreams are flights of hope and passion…but making them real takes dedication and work.

Afterthoughts added later…
Getting into a job as a videojournalist takes time and talent and work and to some extent luck. My crabbiness comes from seeing and listening to young people who think “anyone can do it”. Truth be told, anyone CAN do it. But to do it professionally (for pay) and in a style that compells people to actually WANT to watch you work (meanings strangers, not just friends and those who love you) takes more than a shaky hand, a dream, and being clueless.
And the journalist part is just as challenging. Knowing and understanding your legal rights. Being able to write in clear, concise English (or whatever language you own). Knowing what facts are and not “expanding” or “enhancing” them to make the story better.
Sure, I was a dreamer once. But I sweated blood and tears some days to even get in the door (which btw was pretty much closed to women in 1972 when I forged out into the work world).
Just remember all you need to do is work until you can’t move, learn until your head hurts, and aim for perfection.
Now that’s not too hard, is it?

A shot visit to my roots…

…as a teacher. I never actually left the land of video but have been retired from teaching for some three plus years now.

Last month I returned to Middle College High School where I went through the horror of learning how to teach. That was a truly tumultuous journey…from a single Digital Video Production class to English and AVID (the college prep course, not the editing program) and more. Former co-worker Michael Kennedy honored me by asking me to take over his workload for a few weeks.

Now the English 12 classes went well since he laid the groundwork and made lesson plans. He’s also got AVID 12 in hand…all I had to do was follow his notes – which meant I let the kiddos research colleges and complete applications.

The fun stuff was his other classes. AVID 10. Journalism. The former went from kinda chaotic to totally out of my hands when the AVID tutors arrived. Talk about discipline…they entered the room and took over. My job went from teaching to taking roll.

And…journalism. A small class…minuscule by the standards of a comprehensive high school. Eight – yeah right, count ’em – 8 students. All mine to toy with and teach. And Michael let me have my way with them so I began with having them read the Five Pillars of Islam, the Ten Commandments, and the Eight Fold Path (of Buddha)…and then both the JEA and NPPA Ethics Codes. Final product – a compare and contrast paper which was supposed to lead them into understanding how the Mind of Man works. Why do all societies…all cultures…have similar principles?

20131014_134954Had them write what they wanted to learn from me on the board – and it was all good. Our Editor-In-Chief wanted to learn how to run the school website effectively. And the rest dovetailed into my plans – shooting and editing and writing visual stories.

Problem was that the computer lab the class was taught in was a terror. Every day everything they worked on disappeared – total erasure. And all they had to work with was Moviemaker. And one student’s personal video camera. So I brought in my arsenal of el cheapo cameras – from two Kodak Playtouches to a low end Samsung camcorder and my NX1000 and put them to work shooting the Seven Basic Shots. Then editing it.

How to deal with the problem of gear? Lucky find – a Flip camera in a second-hand store for $9. I guess the owner got rid of it because it wouldn’t allow any video to be recorded. Here’s the solution – plug into a computer and reformat it. Totally cleared up all of the gunk and it worked just like new. And while it shoots SD, that’s a good thing considering the computer situation. SD is oh so much easier to upload and edit than HD.

Next – how to handle the erasure of all projects. A simple solution, one that cost a few more bucks. I donated a 500gb portable hard drive. All raw media is loaded onto it and students were instructed to start a Moviemaker project then immediately save it on the hard drive and close and reopen it from the hard drive. That way all files they imported were linked to the hard drive copy. Kind of weird but a working workaround.

Final project (we were running out of time here) was a group shoot. They needed to learn how to shoot, log, write, and edit a real story. So off we went to the freshman AVID class where students were getting their Secret Penpal letters for the first time (written to them by the sophomores). Each of my J-kids was told to pick a freshman and shoot them as they got and reacted to their letters. Then we snagged a few and took them outside where each J-student had the opportunity to run my good camera and to hold the mike and get an interview. The next class meeting we logged the interviews and wrote the script as a class. My videots did the edit on my laptop and the E-I-C posted it. So now they had a foundation…and it will be interesting to see where they take it.

(I did check up on them a week or so later and the quiet junior girls had done some MOS interviews (man on the street) which nearly floored me. Perfect composition…good light…good quality audio. Fast learners all.)

It’s all in the mind of the shooter…

I keep hearing it. “I could shoot better video if only I had (name the) camera. My life would be so much better if… People would hire me if only…

Hate to break it to ya bro, but that ain’t it. It’s not your gear, unless you’re still trying to keep between the lines with your Crayolas. Then maybe it IS the gear.

What may be lacking is your vision, your talent, your technical chops…

I mean – if you’re bad. You’re BAD. No one wants bad.

Why this rant? Kids who come up to me and think if they had my cam or a better one they could be better than me instantly.

Hah.

Worst story ever. Mom at the school I used to work with came up to ask me about the exorbitant cost of gear. He son was applying for one of those fancy schmancy art school that guarantee you’ll be the next Ford Coppola…or at the very least be rolling in bucks once you graduate (and that’s a rant I’ll reserve for later). I told her that until he got into school a plain ole three or four hundred dollar camera would do to teach him the basics and let him get hands on. So a few weeks later I hear the kid got the (then) camera of his dreams, most likely draining the family savings to boot. All this so he could make an application video to get into the school. We’ll kinda sashay past the fact this was a family that didn’t do college and this was their first kid heading down that path…they had no idea what was expected.

My take when I talked to mom again was astonishment. Explained to her that the school was looking for his ideas…how his mind flowed…his RAW talent. The fine tuning and technical skills were why he wanted to go there.

A tool in the wrong hands does not produce craftsman quality work. It just produces high quality crap.

Now I’m no Emmy winner…always been a meat and potatoes kind of shooter. I know the basics and know how to use whatever tool I have on hand to get the story done. So here’s my third stab at proving a point. (The first stab being Wyoming Cattle Drive and the second Absailing. The former shot with an $80 ebay acquisition/Canon ZR60 and the latter a cheapie still camera with video ability/Exilim Z75.)

It ain’t the cost of the gear…it is the mind behind the grind…the wisdom whispering to the beast…that makes for good shooting AND editing.

Case in point: Refurbished Kodak Playtouch purchased on ebay for $59. Edited on one of my local library’s computers using Final Cut Pro X (and I could have done just as well with iMovie or Moviemaker). There was no zoom, so I zoomed with my legs. Used macro and wide shot settings. Kept fingers crossed and got decent white balance most of the time. Got up close and personal with my interview subject to get more or less clean audio.

So quitcha bitchin and come to terms with your bank account. If you can’t get good with a basic camera, basically you are not gonna get good at all.

Timeless advice…

…it never changes.  The process of creating a visual story that is. But then – what should appear online but some helpful hints for visual shooters.

Trouble is – they’re more than ninety-five years out of date.

Or are they?

Thanks to Amanda Emily, here is a list of hints written by Pathe’ News editor Paul Hugon in 1916 – during the birth of the movement of newsreel shooters. Let’s see how those tips stack up.

Right off there’s this advice. Still applicable today.

The object of motion pictures is to show motion. Only things in which there is motion are worthy of the cameraman’s attention.

Then there’s the highly technical advice on exposure using a hand cranked camera.

For each turn of the handle, eight pictures are exposed. The handle is turned twice in one second. Therefore 16 pictures are exposed in one second.

Translated to today’s terminology, most cameras set on auto expose approximately 30 pictures per second. And you don’t have to keep turning the crank to keep exposing new pictures.

Use a tripod (dammit).

It is essential, to preserve the illusion which is the basis of the film business, that the pictures should be absolutely steady.

We’re in agreement on tilts and pans too! It is better by far to visualize and shoot what you see in several strong shots rather than taking the lazy route and panning or spraying the scene.

There should never be a panoram, either vertical or horizontal, unless it is absolutely essential to obtain a photographic effect, and in any case the panoram should be, not from the main subject to others, but from others to the main subject, where theattention will finally rest. It is very much better to take two scenes than one panorammed scene. Panoraming is the lazy man’s remedy.

There’s a lot more there and most of it pretty darn good. Shoot pretty subjects, striking effects of light and shade. A hefty dose of technical advice on iris and shutter. Ummmm…you can skip the sections on protecting the negative and shipping (by slow boat to China in those days).

And the conclusion is his Golden Rule…

Make as good a picture for others as you would like others to make for you.
Nothing but the very best is good enough. Think, and think hard, how you can make the best picture. Put it all down in writing; plan your scenes…
There is plenty of room at the top of your profession, but you will not get there by standing about or just grinding away. Brain work is ultimately the only way to big money. And the money is there waiting for you.

(well maybe those last few lines don’t apply anymore…)
For full text, go to the original article on Amanda Emily’s site.

Looking for stories…

images …is the name of a site I was directed to this week.  While the concept may not be original (one story a week) the execution is amazing.  Joan Planas and Ana Salva’ have a vision of producing a story a week focusing on people. Plain people who have stories to tell that educate and inform the audience about their community and country.

I like that they spend the time to get to know their subjects over a day or week and the entire story is told in the subject’s own words (with subtitles as necessary).  

But what I like even more is their artistry…their use of motion and exposure and music to make each story unique and real.

So check it out at HERE and let me know what you think.

There be Dragons!

Love this crawling quote on my husband’s computer: “It’s not that we say dragons are real…but we say they can be beaten…”

Dragons being, of course, totally (ahem) imaginary creatures that lurk in fairy tales and in the backs of our minds.

Well in the back of my mind lately there’s been a desire to cut out the seemingly endless hours I spend transcribing interviews. I’d looked into voice recognition software in the past and had an inkling there were some possibilities out there. What did me in was a marathon week of listening to and transcribing a panel discussion of high school debaters and interviews with five coaches. Oh – and presentations by the students too.

Word. For. Word.

Regular folks like to talk. Speech and debate folks take it seriously and my fingers and brain were seriously addled by the time I was through. Limpid fingers…mush for brains.

So I finally began my search in earnest and dragons kept resurfacing as a solution.

Dragons Naturally Speaking. Managed to finagle some coupons and points and got it for nearly half off and began my adventure last night. And was frankly pretty impressed. The program is set up for one voice and you have to go through a learning curve with the software. So I spent about ten minutes setting up my profile, which included reading sentences and learning how to insert capital letters and punctuation, how to start a new line and more and then I transcribed two short interviews in slightly more time than it took to view them. Wow.

The method to get this done could be considered multi-tasking to the extreme. Dragon was open to transcribe into MS Word. I had a screen with an interview playing back. I just had to make sure that Word was the active screen and I would repeat word for word whatever the interview subject was saying. Even transcribed some nats.

The only thing better of course would be to plug-in all audio directly for transcription…but this sure beats the old way of listen and type quickly and then back up and start listening and typing again. For my purposes I don’t need impeccable accuracy…so rough drafts are workable for scripting purposes.

And now I’m ready for that next big project – a series of interviews and nats for DSES…and trust me, it is gonna go together oh so much faster than anticipated.

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